Synopsis: A sister fights for her brother’s innocence after he is incarcerated for murder.
Release Date: October 15, 2010 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Biography
Conviction is something of a rarity in modern film culture: a well-acted ensemble drama for adults that doesn’t engage in sensationalism or visual trickery to hook its audience. But given it is based on a true story, undo sensationalism would be superfluous. The film opens in Ayer, Massachusetts in 1980. A handheld camera sweeps through an empty house gradually revealing bloody handprints on the sink, on the refrigerator, on the walls; a murder scene. Three years later, Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell) is arrested, tried and sentenced to life in prison for the murder. Kenny’s sister Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) never doubts Kenny’s innocence and dedicates her life to overturning his sentence. It’s no spoiler to tell you she succeeds. What is so gripping about the film is how it tracks the trials and tribulations of one woman’s singular dedication to justice. When Kenny was arrested, Betty Anne didn’t even have a GED; while juggling a failing marriage and two young sons, she financed college and law school to become her brother’s lawyer when no one else would.
The film flashes back between Kenny’s trial and appeal to Kenny and Betty Anne’s troubled childhood as the children of a deadbeat mother. As kids, they were routinely arrested for breaking and entering and other petty crimes. Although they were virtually orphans just looking for a home and some solace, the Massachusetts police didn’t see it that way. The pair were separated and sequestered in different foster households. Betty Anne grew out of her delinquency; Kenny didn’t.
Because Conviction hews so closely to its factual basis, at times the action is slow. The truth of the matter is that Kenny had to rot in prison while Betty Anne worked toward her law degree. It is not until she meets up with a fellow law student, Abra, played by Minnie Driver, and the two begin to re-investigate the crime that the film picks up some steam. The two crusading lawyers bring a determined energy to the reinvestigation, showing up everywhere-records offices, crime labs, police stations-to personally sift through twenty year old evidence. This police procedural section of the film feels the most familiar, but it is also the most entertaining.
Pamela Gray’s screenplay also does a good job of accurately portraying the friendship between Swank and Driver. Unlike most female friendships in movies, when Driver’s Abra calls out Betty Anne over her depression, the friendship doesn’t end. Betty Anne recognizes she’s right and they continue looking for evidence that could overturn Kenny’s conviction. That the script and film bring so much strength and authenticity to typically overlooked relationships (brother and sister and female friend/colleagues) is one of the great pleasures of Conviction. Although the story occasionally veers into melodrama (unavoidable considering the subject matter), the movie never feels like it is working to manipulate the audience.
As portrayed by Sam Rockwell, Kenny Waters is a charming and fun-loving man with a victim complex and a nasty violent streak. Although we’re meant to identify with Betty Anne’s struggle to exonerate him, the movie never shies away from highlighting Kenny’s ability to turn instantly from jokester to brawler. A constant scapegoat for police throughout his life, we’re never sure until the end of the film whether Kenny’s rage is misplaced or if he is as much a victim of the system as he claims. Rockwell’s performance is the heart of the film. The actor rarely gives a bad performance and here he is dually dangerous and pitiable, broken and brazen. During Kenny’s eighteen years in prison, Rockwell undergoes a remarkable physical transformation. Clearly aged and dejected from his numerous stints in isolation, at times he is almost unrecognizable. Rockwell and Swank make believable siblings and both actors bring considerable dramatic weight to Betty Anne’s many visits to Kenny in prison. The outstanding supporting cast includes Peter Gallagher as a lawyer from the DNA-testing Innocence Project, Melissa Leo as a tough policewoman and a dynamite performance from Juliette Lewis as a witness in Kenny’s trial. Each supporting performance lends credibility to the story. Everywhere you turn in Conviction, there are great actors giving honest, unadorned performances.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Tony GoldwynTony Goldwyn
- Producer(s): Pamela Gray
- Screenwriter(s): Hilary Swank (Betty Anne Waters)Sam Rockwell (Kenny Waters)Minnie Driver (Abra Rice)
- Story: Melissa Leo (Nancy Taylor)
- Cast: Peter Gallagher (Barry Scheck)Ari Graynor (Mandy)Loren Dean (Rick) Conor Donovan (Richard)Owen Campbell (Ben)Clea Duvall (Brenda Marsh)Karen Young (Elizabeth Waters)Juliette Lewis (Roseanna Perry)Jay CassidyAdriano Goldman
- Editor(s): Mark Ricker
- Cinematographer: Paul Cantelon
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA